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Owen Wormley Browne: Miner, Barber, Oyster Farmer

March 19, 2016

Owen Wormley Browne, an American pioneer at New Westminster, Surrey and Maple Ridge, married Terese Berabera, a native British Columbian “Kanaka.” They had three sons, William, Rufus and Owen and a daughter, Sophia.

Browne’s Early Enterprises:  Coal Prospecting and Oyster Cultivation

In January 1867, Owen Wormley Browne made application to the government for an exclusive right to prospect coal resources on Kanaka Creek. The coal-mining venture came to nothing and the following year Browne sought the approval of the government for another venture.

“26 January 1868

The Chief Commissioner of Lands & Works and Surveyor General of British Columbia

The undersigned having discovered an oyster bed in Mud Bay and being familiar with the mode of transplanting and forming new Beds for the cultivation of oysters, wishes to use a portion of Boundary Bay and all of Mud Bay-proper-for that purpose, and as it will be some years before he can receive any pecuniary return from the oysters so transplanted, he humbly begs of the Government to grant him a twenty one years lease of the portion of the Bay and Mud Bay as described on the accompanying map, with certain limited proprietary rights to the bottom of the Sea for the security of the capital and Labors so invested, and of the Oysters so cultivated. For the use of which he is able to pay the sum of twenty five dollars annually for the first seven years, and one hundred dollars annually for the remaining fourteen years. Hoping that the Government will grant his request at as early a date as convenient.

He has the honor to be

Yours obediently

Owen Wormley Browne”

In a later letter Browne stated he was “thoroughly competent to cultivate oysters successfully.” He believed his enterprise would “eventually become a source of revenue to the Government and a benefit to the Colony.”

Various government officials, including the Attorney General, weighed in on the matter. Charles Good wrote that “This man thoroughly understands the method of preparing oyster beds.”

The Government however, did not find it practical, at that time, to grant Browne the protection he desired for his oyster beds. At issue were competing interests of the Indians [who possibly had first developed cultivated the oyster beds] and incursions by American dredgers.

However, it seems that WO Browne persisted and eventually won the favor of the government. In an earlier post we cited an investment by a “Mr Brown” in oyster farming, believing it to have been Ebenezer Brown.  However, it is Browne who had the credit.

“One of our old citizens, Mr Brown, has leased from the government a piece of land on Mud Bay, for the propagation of the oyster.. .”

“An example of such enterprise as that of Mr Brown, is most valuable, as it stimulates the desire to seek for new branches of industry, and opens up new fields for all who are willing to work.”

Tom Koppel, in Kanaka – The Untold Story of Hawaiian Pioneers in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest, writes that:

“According to his descendants, Owen Browne, Sr. and his three sons, Henry, Bill and Owen Jr., all worked the oyster beds at Point Roberts. . .”

Owen & Terese

In 1871 Owen Wormley Browne, 37, of New Westminster, described as a  “colored man,” born in “Washington City,” United States, married Terese Berra-Berra, 20, a “half-breed” born at Langley BC.

OW Browne states his occupation as “barber” and his father was “John Browne, barber.”

Terese’s father’s name is given as “Ranaka Apon.” Apon was one of the Sandwich Islanders, known here as Kanakas.

Signing as witnesses at the wedding of Terese and Owen were “Garet Carter” and “Mrs E Forester.”

Terese and Owen had three sons and a daughter, that we know of: William W Browne, Owen Forester Browne, Rufus Browne and Sophia Browne.

Whonnock Homestead – Death of OW Browne

Stave River property 2

Portion of Terese Browne’s homestead on Stave River, marked in green.

In 1885 OW Browne and Terese settled on a parcel of land on the left bank of the Stave River above, and adjacent to, the Langley Indian Reserve. They were developing a farm while Mr Browne brought in cash from his barber shop at New Westminster.

Owen Wormley Browne died on October 14, 1886 at New Westminster. His age, stated by his son William W Browne, was 52.

The following appeared some days later in the local newspaper.

“An old pioneer died on Thursday last; and, although he was probably more widely known amongst ‘shavers,’ young and old, than any one else in the district, very few seem to know of his departure.

We refer to Mr. Brown (colored), the old time barber.

He was well educated and belonged to a respectable family in the United States.

He has often been besought by his friends to return to his native land, but preferred remaining here; he leaves a wife and family.”

Terese Browne and her four children kept up the Stave River homestead. By the standards of the day it was a very prosperous farm. Although they had but 8 acres broken and under cultivation at the time the patent was awarded in 1891, the number of livestock exceeded the average. From the start they had 2 head of horned cattle and 2 horses, and by 1890 possessed 11 head of cattle and 5 horses. (Horses, valuable for clearing land, ploughing and transport, were a source of income for the men who contracted out their services to other homesteaders or for road work, logging, etc.)

Neighbors who vouched for the Browne’s occupancy and development of this property were Ronald Ferguson and Joseph Robert Hairsine.

The 1898 voters list confirms that Fred Clark and wife Sophia were also living at Stave River.

Brownsville residence

OF Brown property Lot 2 on Brownsville map c1910 BCERBy the time of the census of 1901, Terese Browne, 40,was head of a “South Westminster” household that included sons William, 24, Owen, 22, Rufus, 20 and daughter Sophie Clark, 17, with her husband Fred Clark, 24.

They appear to have purchased all or part of Lot 2, Group 2. This was one of the original riverfront lots surveyed opposite New Westminster. It lay between the Government Reserve, partly leased by Sam Herring and partly an Indian Reserve, and Lot 3, first owned by Ebenezer Brown. This area would face pressure from railway development and the construction of the Fraser River Bridge and eventually the family would move once again, from the flats to the hillside, a mile south.

Terese Brown died at South Westminster in February 1921. From her obituary, as it appeared in the British Columbian:

“Mrs Theresa Browne, widow of the late Owen Wormley Browne, died at South Westminster on Monday, at the age of 70 years.

She leaves to mourn their loss one son, Captain Owen Foster Browne, Master of the BX Co.’s steamer, plying between Quesnel and Fort George, B.C., one daughter, Mrs Fred Clarke, and also nine grandchildren, all residing at South Westminster.”

Children of OW Browne and Terese are covered in following posts.

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